The glue is diminishing in either quantity, stickiness or both. The short term is the problem: particularly memories that record the important, if sometimes tedious daily routines which, in the final analysis, keep us from becoming destitute and smelly. But imagine, by the time we are our age many of our routines have been performed literally thousands of times, and the older we grow the more our routines become routine.
When routines are so familiar they need almost no thought, Autopilot takes over. Autopilot by definition requires absent-mindedness, out-of-body and on-another-planet consciousness. Trouble is Autopilot is not entirely bug-free. When in control, it can easily omit an important step of a routine and simply substitute the memory of its previous iteration. This explains why, for example, I occasionally forget to do my flies up after a pee. Incidentally, I don’t remember ever failing to lift the lav seat, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.
We can all remember times when we’ve forgotten things. (A weird thought in itself, when you think about it.) I’ve forgotten to take the key out of the front door and left it there overnight; I’ve forgotten most of the Greek, Latin and French I learnt at school; I’ve forgotten to lock the car; I’ve forgotten to renew my parking permit; innumerable times I’ve forgotten where I left my keys; innumerable times I’ve forgotten where I’ve left my glasses; innumerable times I’ve forgotten to lock the conservatory door; I forgot that I put my keys in a cardboard box that was taken to recycling never to be seen again; I’ve forgotten to put in my hearing aids and so on and on and on and on. Yet this infinity of amnesia is only the tip of the iceberg. Submerged in a vast shadowy oblivion are all the things I’ve forgotten that I’ve forgotten, now just redundant and decaying thickets of neural connections in my head. Few, if any, will ever surface. Surely we forget much more than we ever remember.
I do remember last Christmas, I think it was the Saturday after, the early part of a sunny afternoon. Neil “volunteered” to drag our now obsolete Christmas tree down to the park where an area is set aside by the council for the locals to deposit their obsolete Christmas trees. When the Christmas tree comes down, the festivities are definitively over, and there’s no denying I enjoy the “it’s-so-great-when-it’s-all-over” sense of relief, when it is.
Neil traipses off dragging the tree behind him. Soon after, I remember I’ve not yet been down to the newsagent to pick up the paper. Perhaps because I am a bit sore, or perhaps because I am a bit lazy, I drive down in the old banger. I’ve done this so many times that Autopilot takes over before I’ve even reached the first left. I don’t always drive. Just as often I walk, and just as often, Autopilot takes over before the first left.
I park the car and pick up the newspaper. At this point Autopilot, for reasons unknown, switches from the drive-to-the-newsagent mode to the walk-to-the-newsagent mode, and I stride home with newspaper tucked under my arm, unconsciously enjoying the sunshine while my head is elsewhere. About ten minutes later Neil, who has by now dumped the tree, comes in.
“Dad,” he says, “what’s the old banger doing at the newsagents? I’ve been looking all over for you down there.” OMG, as they say on social media. Imagine if I’d done that when Neil wasn’t around. I’d probably have reported the car stolen and, several extremely stressful episodes later, been given a suspended sentence for wasting police time.
This is the forgetfulness of absentmindedness (not absentminded Essex as the spellchecker now suggests, by the way). I am certainly absentminded, but my old friend Don is in another league. He was always a bit churchy, a verger or something, passing the collection box, singing in the choir, that sort of thing. Even so we always had a good laugh together, and that was on plenty of occasions. When he retired, he took Holy Orders. One day he was officiating at some routine matins, vespers or whatever when he found he couldn’t remember the Lord’s Prayer. It’s not because I’m an atheist, that I call that serious. And so it proved to be. (A mutual friend thinks he’s lost his faith not his memory.)
Sometimes I only remember part of a routine necessary to avoid becoming, ultimately, indigent and niffy. When someone unilaterally changes the routine, a cock-up is imminent. Recently, I woke during the night at about five in the morning [sic], and went for a pee, not forgetting to lift the lav seat. As so often, I found it difficult to get back to sleep again. I tossed, turned, mused, and I remembered. It was the 1st of February. Shit….it’s the day when the resident’s parking permits (RPPs) should’ve been renewed.
A year or so ago, the council used to send RPP reminder letters, and when payment was received, one with a perforated, push-out parking permit disc. This had to be displayed on the resident’s car windscreen, alongside and similar in appearance to the Vehicle Tax disc, on pain of a hefty fine. In those days, car windscreens recalled rosetted gymkhana ponies. For council staff, sending out these paper permits, just before and after Christmas, would have been an impossible diversion from the important seasonal business of eating, drinking, groping if not fornicating, and shopping. So the expiry date is sensibly set as early February. By then, one might suppose, everyone has sobered up, and in the second week of their New Year’s resolution diet.
But RPPs are now issued online. My panic is absurd because I’ve forgotten the email reminding me the expiry date is not today, but the 4th February. Headless chickens have notoriously bad memories. I spend the morning in a completely superfluous lather conducting a futile all-house search for physical council reminder letters, until eventually it comes back to me that it’s all online now. There are no letters and perforated paper push-outs and nothing to stick on the windscreen. No reminder letters with unique PIN numbers. There are just emails with links, and data-roaming.
Had I realised this, we (Joan had, by now, been sucked into this administrative Charybdis) would have spared ourselves the anxious kerfuffle of the search, and the febrile and unrealistic wheezes to move cars about to avoid parking fines. In desperation, we look through our emails. Huge sighs of relief, predictable, if justified, tut-tutting from Joan, and lower lip biting on my part, when, at last, I find the email reminder and clock the deadline is still three days hence.
The facts established, and equanimity restored, I am heartily resolved to take this effing chore by the scruff of its neck and sort it. Two cars need RPPs, the old banger and our rather snazzy, if middle-aged, estate. I successfully complete the online procedures and pay for the old banger, but despite my repeated and increasingly irritated efforts, Computer says no, no record of the estate, even though I can see a record of the estate with my own eyeballs onscreen even as I write. It says Permit requires renewal.
I foolishly ring the listed helpline where I am sent on a wild goose chase of recorded options and unhelpful suggestions, referring me back, after several dead-ends, to where I started. I give up after a couple of gruelling Iaps. Getting to speak to a real person in real time at the council is blood and stone futile.
The upshot of this unspeakably tedious and annoying IT glitch is that I have to spend another hour describing the inadequacies of their online service in an email to ParkingSupport@council.gov.uk quoting chapter and URL, and not omitting the added complication that, although I have paid the full whack for the old banger, I am certainly looking for the two car discount when ParkingSupport get their act together. I copy this to one of our ward councillors in the, probably vain, hope that it will add leverage.
The deadline has expired and to avoid the further hassle of having to contest unjustified parking fines, we’ve arranged for the estate to be parked off road courtesy of an obliging neighbour, while I wait to hear from ParkingSupport.
This sorry tale of a wasted life is not without a point of interest; it’s a case where computer memory failure curiously coincided with my own to turn what should have been a simple task into a farrago. The question is: would the council computer have remembered, if I had? If I’d remembered to apply for the RPPs in good time, would the website have worked? In the theory of infinite universes, of course, in that of sliding doors, who knows? And what will happen next year? Will this year’s lessons be remembered? We shall see.
Right now, probably in several labs at places like MIT, Imperial or CalTech, researchers are devising ways to graft a USB port onto the brain, and software to bring automatically to one’s attention the calendar of chores that keep the show on the road and passably hygienic. Bring it on. I’m more than happy to forget glue, and stick, so to speak, a memory stick in a hole in my head. Whatever works. Yes, I definitely need a hole in the head like, in this case, not like a hole in the head.
Less than two hours after I write “a hole in the head”, an email from ParkingServices pings in. Its author, Charles, graciously apologises for the difficulties with the website, and for any delay in replying to my email. He provides an hyperlink to the site where, he assures me, the transaction for the outstanding permit will now work smoothly. He also politely advises me that what I referred to as the two car discount, is in fact a two car surcharge. I’m too charmed by Charles’ courtesy, and too impatient to get my life back, to care about forking out the usurious 35 quid extra. The transaction seems, as Charles promised, seamless, so at last the job is done. Is here the hidden power of leverage at work? We will never know.
Embarassingly, what all this reveals is a miserable, half-empty old git prone to flights of slanderous* drivel, and the mean-spirited stereotyping of decent council folk, when faced with the trivial task of renewing parking permits, for heaven’s sake. Joan is, to an extent, right. A bit sad really, but there you have it.
* What a splendid word: mud-slinging, wet and slimy; almost onomatopoeic.